OMAHA — What will you remember most about the day Nebraska took down mighty Texas to win the NCAA volleyball championship?
You’ve got some options.
You could start with match point, when Kelsey Fien put down a final kill that kicked off a celebration with 17,561 fans, the most ever to watch a college match.
Nebraska defeated Texas 25-23, 25-23, 25-21 to win the program’s fourth NCAA title, joining teams that won titles in 1995, 2000 and 2006.
NU won by being great at the end of three pressure-packed sets. The Huskers won the first two sets each by two points. Nebraska coach John Cook gave the fans the assist for that.
This season, No. 5 Nebraska went all-in on getting to the hometown Final Four, and didn’t stop once it got here, taking down Kansas in the national semifinals, then third-ranked Texas on the final day of the season.
This was a Texas team with Final Four experience and five All-Americans.
Nebraska won its final 16 matches of the season. NU lost back-to-back matches to Minnesota and Wisconsin in October, but never lost again.
Maybe you’ll remember Nebraska fans drowning out the Texas pep band playing “The Eyes of Texas” during warmups, and never letting up over the next two hours.
Nebraska’s Kelly Hunter felt you, Husker fans.
“There was one point, I don't know when it was, but I know Amy Neal was back to serve, I think we had game point, and I can't remember who said it, but they said, 'I thought my eardrums were going to pop,'" Hunter said.
You didn’t see it, but in a hallway 20 minutes after the match, Cook was thinking about all those fans across the state he knew had been watching.
Of all the feelings running through Cook’s mind at the time, he could tell you that four of the 10 Huskers that played Saturday were from Nebraska: Kadie and Amber Rolfzen, Hunter and Sydney Townsend.
“So to beat Texas in (front of) the biggest crowd ever on the national stage … the farmers, the taverns, the bars, they’re going to be talking about this for years,” Cook said. “I’ll go to Paxton, Nebraska, and they’ll play this match on the TV.”
Maybe you’ll remember the look of frustration on the face of Texas All-America middle blocker Chiaka Ogbogu — a look she was used to inflicting on others — after she hit a ball wide in the third set. Nebraska had got to Ogbogu. Her four kills were wiped away by four errors, and her .000 hitting percentage was nowhere close to her season average of .412.
Maybe you listened on radio, because John Baylor is always there for you even when national TV is not, so you’ll remember how Baylor called it.
“Kelsey Fien off the block and out,” he said. “They did it. Nebraska, national champions. Nebraska is the national champion. Go celebrate. In 2015, the Big Red is best.”
Maybe you’ll remember how NU faced a 22-21 deficit in the second set before taking four of the final five rallies to win 25-23.
Cook grabbed his water bottle and headed to the locker room with a 2-0 lead. He loves getting a chance to play a team a second time in a season. Texas had beaten NU 3-2 in September. Cook loves coming up with a new plan and making players believe they can flip the result.
“I told our team we match up great with Texas,” he said.
An added bonus for this Husker win was that it came against a Texas team that had beaten the Huskers each of the past five times they’ve played.
Maybe you’ll remember when Mikaela Foecke was crushing balls so hard they hit off Longhorns and ricocheted off the court. Or when she had a kill to win a long rally for a 20-17 lead in the second set. Texas called a timeout, and there was a buzz in the arena that lasted the entire timeout.
Foecke had a match-high 19 kills and was named the Final Four MVP.
There were no nerves, Foecke said, thanks in part to all those fans.
“They wanted it just as bad as we did, and knowing that makes it a lot more easy to play,” Foecke said.
Maybe Cook will remember when he got on the team bus at about 9:40 p.m. Saturday, way earlier than he would have if the Huskers hadn’t played so great. He was carrying a big piece of the net the Huskers had cut down earlier.
Earlier, Cook and Texas coach Jerrit Elliott crossed paths as Cook headed to a news conference. That had to be the best you played all year, Elliott said. It was, Cook replied.
The Huskers hit .311 for the match and held Texas to .215.
“I’m just really happy with how our team has handled the season and how hard they’ve worked and how much they’ve improved and how much they believed tonight," Cook said.
Maybe you’ll remember Cecilia Hall getting kills on each of her first four attempts. Texas had the star middle blockers, but Hall and Amber Rolfzen beat the Longhorns at their own game, the slide play. Rolfzen had 10 kills, and Hall seven.
Cook told Hall before the Final Four that she had to turn it loose. She did.
“We’ve seen her have some shaky matches, and for her to play like that was awesome,” Cook said.
Maybe you’ll remember Fien, who didn’t get her starting spot from 2014 back to start this season, but had the kill on national championship point.
This journey started right after a third straight Elite Eight loss last year. Time to get over the Elite Eight hump, Cook said. Time to get to Omaha.
While doing so, the Huskers went and won themselves a national championship.
NOTE: This story appeared in the Dec. 20 edition of the Journal Star